Sharp sounds of clashing metal ring out beneath one of the many tall, oil burning street lamps that intermittently light Thaleniel’s dark, southern warehouse district. Bathed in orange-tinted light, two figures, clearly engaged in combat, move and circle each other. They trade slashes, thrusts, blocks, and parries as their swords meet again and again. Eventually, one of the combatants gains an upper hand and drives the other back with a powerful, barely avoided stab.

“‘The night shift will be easy coin’ they said…” seventeen year old Bidella Rimony mutters as she reels from the attack she only just managed to turn aside.

The young, strongly-built human woman is dressed in the rudimentary armor and headgear common to the capital city’s many guards, but given the state of combat, whatever she is guarding does not look like it will remain safe much longer. She gives a glance back to the stable she was assigned to watch, and even though her sword arm aches and she can’t quite catch her breath, she straightens her stance and readies her blade against her attacker once more.

”You are winded and soon be bested. Fighting on sees you injured. Killed. What will you do?” the half elf advancing calmly toward her asks.

”I would yell for help again,” Bidella answers. She cups her hands to her mouth and quietly makes a show of shouting to the left and right for help. ”…and then I would…” she pretends to hesitate as she checks her footing, ”…attack,” she very nearly yells for real as she springs forward towards her attacker.

The girl clearly has some skill with a blade as she feints and dodges past the answering swing that comes towards her. She has just enough time to catch the surprise on her attacker’s face before she begins a well executed heavy slash aimed at his left shoulder. A slash that is easily rebuffed by the light leather shield strapped to his left arm…

Her half elf opponent briefly looks down on her with disapproval, then takes a strong step forward and swipes his sword an inch from Bidella’s face causing her to flinch sharply away. With her sword arm woefully out of position and her momentum already carrying her backward, it is an easy maneuver for her opponent to step up and shove her roughly to the ground. Bidella grunts in pain as her thin armor does little to soften her impact. Her sword clatters to the stone paved street beside her and she reaches for it, but her attacker moves again and all she can focus on is the point of his sword as it comes to a stop directly in front of her left eye.

”Wrong answer,” her attacker tells her. ”If you are outnumbered or outfought, you must run. Horses or jewelry or what you guard can all be gotten again. You cannot.” The blade near her face remains for another moment, emphasizing its holder’s point, before it is withdrawn, sheathed, and replaced by a helping hand.

”By the gods, Nme’an, do you have to be so rough?” Bidella asks as she takes his offered hand and pulls herself to her feet.

“I only am so as to make clear your mistakes,” the half elf, half again her age, responds firmly.

“It is hard to practice against you when I am so… wary… that you will punish my slightest mistake,” the guard-in-training complains.

”We learn best by mistake, then avoiding it in the next time,” Nme’an replies.

”There is never any winning with you is there?” Bidella half laughs, half grumbles. In the two weeks since she’d joined the city guard, her assigned mentor had not once backed down from an instance when he thought he was correct. It certainly did not help that, so far, he almost always had been.

”Ok…” she sighs, ”What did I do wrong, then?”

”Aside from failing to retreat?” Nme’an first asks, so as to not let her forget his point. But, as quick as he is to chastise or roughly punish, he is just as quick to teach.

”You made a clever move but followed it by attacking my strongest side. You may very well done serious harm and won the fight if I had not held a shield. But I did. A battle is a string of moves from you pit against moves from the one you fight. Winning one round only to leave yourself two moves behind is no win at all.”

The teenage girl does her best to consider her teacher’s words as she picks up her weapon and begins acting out the final moves of their mock engagement in slow motion. She shakes her head as she stops her swing in the same position as when it made contact with her instructor’s shield, then starts the routine a second time.

Though her face is crestfallen at first, it lights up slightly as she acts out her surprise attack once more.
”You thought my move was ‘clever’?” she asks. A number of distant bells begin ringing out the new hour before her mentor can reply, but the small half smile that appears on his face tells her all she needs to know.

Soon, the bells complete their four rings, indicating the top of the fourth hour past midnight, and leave the moonlit city in silence once more.

”What do we do now?” Nme’an asks once their echoes fade.

The first time he had asked the question, on her first night of training some two weeks prior, she’d had no immediate answer and had been sent home for the night with a warning to know her duties. It was one mistake, at least, that she had learned from.

“We go on our rounds,” Bidella answers confidently, earning herself a small nod from her trainer. A minor victory, but for Bidella, it was enough.